Recommendations for great beach reads are everywhere, every year; they start in the spring and are often ongoing. Amazon gives us “Superbly Good Beach Reads” while Barnes and Noble more modestly lists “Beach Reads”—totally disinterested advice from both, of course! Real Simple gives us “The 20 Best New Paperback Beach Reads.” The Huffington Post published other people’s lists, including one from The Oprah Magazine. Refinery 29 has “Beach Read Books.” Bustle has “31 Beach Reads for Summer 2016, Because Vacation Should Be Filled With Incredible Stories.” In 2016, POPSUGAR recommended both “Summer Books 2016” and “Beach Reads for Women.”
Many lists seem to presume that women are the readers, because most of these lists appear in magazines targeted to women: Cosmopolitan, “Beach Reads for Summer 2016”; Redbook, “Best Summer Beach Reads of 2016”; Women’s Day, “28 Summer Beach Reads 2016.”
I’ve always loved the beach and books—but I’ve never bought a “beach read,” and didn’t this year. I’m rereading Diana Gabaldon.
Am I alone in reading at the beach without advice?
I recently shared a beach week with 9 other people, ages eight to eighty-five. Some brought multiple books, but none of them brought a book specifically bought for the beach! Here, in no particular order, are their books and their comments on them.
“I like macabre books. They hold my attention. I wanted to read The Girl on the Train but this book is better. A girl disappears when her family is on vacation in the Rocky Mountains.”
“I brought Lila by Marilyn Robinson, a book I bought the last time I was in Denver. She writes with surprising details about surprising events that call attention to the uniqueness of the most ordinary people, their inarticulateness. Yet somehow she brings out the intensity of their inner lives.”
“I love flowers and Nancy Hugo writes about her gardening experiences in a very down-to-earth, witty way. She makes me feel like I am with her in her garden.”
“I brought Killing Reagan but I was out shopping and found a mystery by a local writer that sounded like a good read, about being set up by a friend with cyberspace and assault rifles and, of course, a woman was involved. The author is Bruce Wilkins and the book is The Count of Cape Hatteras.”
“I’m reading The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon. As part of my 2016 Reading Challenge, I am supposed to re-read a book I previously abandoned. I struggled with this, the fifth in the Outlander series, when I started it a few years ago, but my interest was recently renewed by the TV series based on the books. I have found that I am more engaged in the book this time around and I am glad I picked it up again.”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows is the seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series that I started in May, abandoned, and then started back up in late June, because I had nothing new to read. I have noticed that as the books go, it develops a more grown-up sort of writing, and the type of art on the covers changes as well. On the first book the cover is cartoon-y and on the last book it’s much more… ‘Sirius.’”
“The only book I brought was the daily meditations. I gotta keep up with the program, but the beach is for sun and water, not books!”
“One Time Thing by Anna Quindlon was recommended to me by a friend, I think because it’s about transformation. I like that it starts off with the narrator in her hometown jail and then regresses back to the events leading up to her relaxing gratefully in that cell. The way she illustrates courage, suffering, and everyday acts of love. . . the ingredients for the shifting bond of mother and daughter are beautiful. Anna Quindlon is an excellent storyteller who has managed to hold my attention.”
“I brought Buongiorno Italia! in a foolish attempt to learn enough Italian to use it on a trip in September. But really, my motive was because I like languages. Italian is beautiful to speak. I have picked up phrases that I memorized listening to opera records at age twelve or thirteen and didn’t understand. Right now I am working on the auxiliary verbs and verb endings. What fun! I need oral practice and a better memory.”
“The Young Avengers is about superheroes. I’m reading The Secret Zoo instead. It’s about a girl named Megan who went missing and her brother and his two friends go looking for her. What’s special about the zoo is that the animals are able to get out of their cages and lead Megan’s brother and friends to a secret part of the zoo. And along the way Megan’s brother finds pages of Megan’s notebook that have clues on them.”
“My yoga teacher had surgery early this summer and won’t be back till September. I just wanted to hold my ground. Does looking at the pictures count as reading? If so, it’s a great read!”
When my younger granddaughter was singing nonsense, her older sister said, “That’s not a song!” The younger one said, “If I sing it, it’s a song!” To paraphrase: if you read it at the beach, it’s a beach read!